How I Used Facebook to Unearth a Town’s History

by Dan Blank on January 26, 2010

Recently I have been considering the value of social media in terms of how it enables families, connections and provides meaning to our everyday lives.

So today I want to share a story about how Facebook is allowing me to experience my past in new and incredible ways. Here is the premise:

  • I drove through my hometown (Howell, New Jersey) snapping pictures of every store, house, and landmark I could on the main road.
  • I uploaded 165 photos to Facebook, and shared it for anyone to see.
  • So far, these photos have received more than 700 comments, adding stories, context, history and reactions. A variety of generations responded, some who remembered it in the 1950s and 1960s.

What makes this remarkable is that I grew up in a faceless American suburb – full of cheap strip malls and tract housing. Almost everyone was a transplant from somewhere else, with waves of people settling there from New York, including my parents who moved from Queens.

Yet there is meaning here, there is history. And because of social media, it is now a shared history. Below are some of the photos I posted, and a selection of comments people added. I am most enamored with the comments for buildings that are abandoned, dilapidated and faceless.


This house seems to have been unoccupied for my entire life, and I always wondered about its past. But now the mystery is solved; here are some comments people posted about it:

"Rosie dean owned it before all of you were born it was her house and ice cream place."

Another person added:

"My dad owned a gas station on the other side of the street in the 60s and this house used to be a hamburger place. Do you remember the 19 cent hamburger sign, it was up until the late 70’s, early 80’s, I think. I remember my dad telling me that the owner’s wife lived there until she died and shortly after her death, the sign came down."

And another comment:

"Yes, Mrs. Dean lived there with her husband. It was a Hamburger join and they also owned Dean’s grocery which was next door to the VFW."


Here is another store that has been abandoned for as long as I can remember. The photo received 17 comments, including this one:

"We moved to Howell in the early 50’s and Howell at that time was a summer retreat, believe it or not. These little grocery stores were all we had except for Foodtown in Farmingdale and the A&P in Freehold (downtown) Mostly Jewish/German families came down back them to these little resorts. They were little bungalows. If you went further back down that road beside the grocery there was even a little resort with a built in pool!! That was amazing. No one had a pool back then. we all went to Hamburger’s Lake or Charlies Lake."

Evidently, in the past few weeks, someone (finally) began converting this building into something else. Glad we were able to capture its history on Facebook before it is gone.

The ugliest building in Howell (which is saying something), and again, always a mystery. One of the many comments:

"That was at one time the clock factory called Harris and Mallow my grandfather worked there. Up top was a dentist’s office, Dr. Roseph, who was the worst dentist ever. Around the corner was a little market called Jimmies, or Acres Market: Bazooka gum 1 cent and Ring Dings, candy ciggs, and all that good stuff as a kid. Next door to that was a barber shop called Hank’s, I used to get a buzz and then he would wax it – those where the days!"

Suddenly, this faceless building has a history of an active community.


My elementary school lunchroom. Clearly, it brings back a ton of memories, and it was nice to hear those of others:

“My Mother worked in the Taunton School kitchen, does anyone remember the little blonde Scottish woman? She did the baking & serving, she’ll be 90 this Wednesday, and is still very active. She still lives here in the same house… and also worked at Harris & Mallow clock factory with her friend, little Irish woman Annie. They have a lot of stories!!!”


This is the school I attended for Kindergarten. This photo was taken just before it was closed down to be converted into offices. Someone commented:

"Still looks the same even after like 48 years. Yikes… My first grade class was just up on right, Mrs. Lunt. Make a quick right and the principal’s office was on right, Mr. McCullough. Down the hall last room on left facing the playground is where my kindergarten room was, Mrs. Getty. Man, what a trip down memory lane."

It amazed me that this photo of a derelict building was recognized by people. It was an egg stand years ago, and while the photo alone has no meaning, once people add comments, it comes alive. Some responses:

"Wow I remember going there with my parents when I was a kid. There was a cute little old lady that lived there and it always smelled like soup."

"My daddy used to take me there all the time to get eggs… the lady was sooo cute but she died a couple of years ago."

This chapel used to be a movie theater. People had such strong memories of this building, and shared the names of movies they saw over the years: Slap Shot, Jaws, Grease, The Sting, and this memory:

"We used to walk there thru the woods in the back to Brown Rd. We’d see a movie, walk over to Larrys Big Dipper ice cream store (across from McDonalds) and play pinball or Asteroids. Walking home after the movie was rough because you couldn’t see anything and at times it would get swampy back there. I remember Lakewood and Howell folks didn’t get along back in those days and there used to be some fights right in this area because it was the border between the two towns."


This is a plant stand, and I was surprised to learn how much history is in that little building:

"We had actually had Girl Scout meetings there and people had parties at the Southard Grange. It was a meeting house for the locals to discuss politics and farming and 4H meetings. Back in the day there was no "town." I’m talking 50 years ago."

"I think my mom went to school here for a few years, before Southard was built… maybe my grandparents, too…"


Decades later, people are still debating which was the best pizza in town via the comments. Here is Lino’s, which seemed to lose the battle. And yet, after three decades, it still soldiers on!


Even empty lots have a history:

"This was a restaurant named Pete’s and he had the best pizza around in its day."

Another person added some color to the story:

"Old Pete always had a cigar in his mouth. We used to laugh about how many cigar ashes landed in the pizza that Pete would make!"


Howell’s most famous landmark: The Moon Motel. Easily the shadiest place in town. 38 comments across three photos of it. One of the comments:

"Yeah, I partied there a few times. It never seemed like anyone was ever parked in the parking lot, it always had a vacant sign on it and I never saw anyone in the pool. I grew up on Kent Rd, the Moon Motel was just one of those places that was always there. It was actually pretty weird the first time I went there and hung out and partied in one of the rooms. I guess it is Howell’s version of the Bates Motel, kinda creepy even though the sign is cool. One of the rooms had a framed picture of Stallone as Rambo shooting a machine gun."

In 1980, the store here burned down, and it’s been empty ever since. Some comments on the photo:

"I was in Ramtown Fire Co. at the time, we were called to assist."

"This was Kings Furniture. I remember my aunt buying some furniture there as a small boy and they gave her a set of Lionel trains as a gift. She then gave them to me and I still have them, they have been under a lot of Christmas trees since."


Facebook has really helped capture a history that would otherwise be lost. It is also connecting a community of people who have sinced moved on from this one place.

Those growing up today will only ever know a world where information & stories like these will be shared as they happen. They will grow up in a connected world where it is hard to lose touch with people, easy to connect, easy to share, and always online.

And I think that’s cool.


Follow me on Twitter: @DanBlank

{ 38 comments… read them below or add one }

magpie January 26, 2010 at 7:03 am

This is fascinating.

Susan March 2, 2010 at 1:58 am

So how did the people find the pictures? Via a Facebook search? Or were they FB friends already?

DanBlank March 2, 2010 at 2:57 am

Susan,
People found the pictures because they had already joined Facebook Groups about the town. I think I posted them to 3 or 4 groups, some with names like “I grew up in _____”
Thanks!
-Dan

Susan March 2, 2010 at 7:58 pm

What a great, out-of-the-box idea for finding interesting stories!

Antique Barber Chair April 10, 2010 at 3:43 am

Great story! I love Facebook and twitter too.

Goodieandmore July 7, 2010 at 4:24 pm

I found an old clock. It is square with dominoes for the numbers. It is electric but it doesn't run anymore. The tag card is still attached to the back. Company name was Harris and Mallow from New Jersey. I currently live in PA but I grew up in NJ. I located this site to find history on the clock.

Croy November 20, 2010 at 12:18 pm

I worked in the Harris and Mallow clock factory at Framingdale in 1967. Stewert root beer stand was across the street and Sub shop was there to. Best subs i've ever had still get hungry for them.

Victor Jelagin April 29, 2013 at 2:31 pm

I had a friend ,Michael Kursh,(nickname was “Misha”) whose father was a custodian there(not sure of the spelling). Looking to track down Michael. Haven’t seen him since the 1960’s. They used to live upstairs from the factory. Any information you might have would be appreciated.

Dan Blank April 29, 2013 at 3:29 pm

Try Facebook – there are some old Howell groups there.

grace September 28, 2013 at 2:45 pm

my mother’s aunt had a summer bungalow in Freewood Acres, at that time is was all Italians.from Brooklyn. my father who had a farm in Freehold where the Park Ave School it today use to come there and sell his vegetables they fell in love and got married that was early 40s…in 1951 ..
my husband
comes to the USA from Russia, his parents built a house on 3rd Street across from the then Deer Head In which is now the Ivy League..and low and behold we met in the Boro Freehold High School in the 60’s and were married in 63. so what is the saying what goes around comes around.

Dan Blank October 2, 2013 at 2:39 pm

Thanks Grace – I love hearing these stories!
-Dan

jody mitch October 21, 2013 at 9:54 pm

wow. I grew up here also. Its very hard to consider the Moon motel as a serious motel and i feel bad for out-of-towners who actually sleep there, not knowing how many times we all partied there and pissed on the beds ahhaha

suzzanne October 21, 2013 at 11:52 pm

this is a great idea to see the old buildings and what they once were and the comments…I myself live in a very old house in Howell and have heard some stories about my house…love it!

Jacquie December 29, 2013 at 10:05 pm

Jacquie: Did that sub shop use shredded cabbage instead of lettuce? I remember that . I worked at the Delphi Diner just across the Highway. Anyone remember it??My first job

fiscalconsoclib February 5, 2014 at 3:51 pm

Ironic that movie theatre turned into a church considering the amount of handjobs I got there.

Tina Simon February 6, 2014 at 12:08 am

Great Blog Dan (Tina)

Dan Blank February 6, 2014 at 12:52 am

Thanks!

ChristopherSmith February 6, 2014 at 7:19 pm

Excellent work Dan – grateful to see simple gesture of posting photos can have such a big impact. Regards, Christopher Smith and co

Dan Blank February 6, 2014 at 7:49 pm

Thanks!

Ranger_Jones February 6, 2014 at 10:05 pm

That was absolutely amazing! Makes me kinda like this old town again!

Dan Blank February 6, 2014 at 11:05 pm

Thanks!

Charles Seitz February 9, 2014 at 3:05 am

Dan, Funny how I ran across this site. My name is Charlie Seitz and I use to work with Annie. She would set up the Clock on the peg boards and I would then place them in a machine that would sweat plastic over them.

I would catch the bus in front of Dean’s store and The Original Building that the VFW is or was housed in, was The Freewood Acres Fire House. My Grandfather Charles P. Seitz Sr and My Dad Charles P. Seitz Jr., Red Wilson and a many others started a volunteer Fire Company.

And by the way Pete’s dinner was located right across from Dean’s. Many memories, I do Have!!!

Dan Blank February 9, 2014 at 1:32 pm

Thanks Charles!

Lynn Stohl November 23, 2014 at 2:23 pm

I lived in Howell all my life and I use to walk to Pine View Store with friends and buy penny candy and soda back in the fifties.Also remember Mrs.Dean.She was a real nice lady.Thanks Dan for the pictures.

Ellen Childers November 23, 2014 at 9:37 pm

Dan, Thank you for sharing all of your photo’s of our little town’s history. Some of the buildings in your pictures have been torn down since your trip. I too, love the stories shared by everyone. I have lived in this town all of my life, Southard School, to LOP, then on to Howell High. I only wish that I had captured the decades in pictures.
It’s never too late. Thanks again. ๐Ÿ™‚

Dan Blank November 24, 2014 at 12:51 pm

Thank you Lynn!

Dan Blank November 24, 2014 at 12:51 pm

Thanks!

Dan Blank November 24, 2014 at 12:52 pm

Thanks Ellen. Yes, I saw that what I believe was the watch factory – the big ugly brown building is now gone, and just an empty slap of concrete now.

Victor Igor Wasylczenko November 26, 2014 at 4:12 pm

Where are all the rest of the photos posted?

Victor Igor Wasylczenko November 26, 2014 at 4:31 pm

I was one of the luckiest kids in Freewood Acres. I lived just up the block from that 19ยข hamburger sign. They were also one of my customers on my paper. The cutest girl in town worked there. She had red hair and her face was covered with freckles. She was older than me but I had a big crush on her. She would give me a big chocolate soft ice-cream cone for free and then would ask me to put my head into the little serving window and she would give me a kiss. Later when her little sister started working there, she continued the practice.

Years later I opened my first record store in Freehold. The younger sister walked in. I walked up to her, put my arms around her and gave her a kiss. She just stood there, no idea who I was. When I reminded her, she said she kind of remembered me. That broke my heart.

Dan Blank November 29, 2014 at 9:02 pm

There is a Facebook Group that I may have posted them to years ago: https://www.facebook.com/groups/195474150514323/

Dan Blank November 29, 2014 at 9:03 pm

Victor – these are the types of stories that are often lost in time – I appreciate your sharing them here.
-Dan

Gene Tkats December 12, 2014 at 12:12 am

Lisowoy’s sub shop used fresh grated cabbage, vinegar and oil. Makes Subway’s pale by comparison, even with his white flour rolls.

Dan Blank December 12, 2014 at 1:07 pm

Gene – these are the kind of details that I love unearthing through this thread. Thank you!

-Dan

Jonathan Kus March 19, 2015 at 4:06 am

Interesting. We moved here in 2004. I’ll have to check out the photos. This is my son’s hometown now and I’m nostalgic about my own. I grew up in New Providence (in Union Cty. on the border of Morris Cty.) and the neighborhood is very much like NP was back in the 1980’s.

Dan Blank March 19, 2015 at 12:29 pm

Thanks Jonathan!

Michael September 2, 2016 at 5:25 am

Hey Dan, i’m an 18 year old resident of Freehold, and I love history and have always been fascinated with many of these buildings you have posted pictures of ever since I was a child. It was very interesting to get some background information and stories on many of these buildings. It is a shame that many more have been torn down over the past few years, but these stories will live on. Thanks for sharing

Dan Blank September 2, 2016 at 11:52 am

Thanks for the kind words Michael!

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